By Steen Schelle Jensen, Head of Product Management – Heat/Cooling Solutions, Kamstrup
Linking frequent smart heat meter data with facts about the district heating pipes can fundamentally change the way utilities plan, operate and maintain their distribution network. As a result, improving asset management and reducing heat losses in the network hold a huge savings potential.
– equipment. In other words, individual measurements on individual spots. Some utilities then combine these measurements with airborne thermography performed by drones or placing additional sensors, smart valves and other intelligent devices in the network. It is interesting to see the enormous focus on technological development in this area – but it is as if we have only scratched the surface of its potential. Ultimately, thermography and individual devices can deliver only snapshots of the network that do not really give utilities the insight they need into its actual condition and development. The idea to get information directly from the network makes perfect sense in this age of IoT (Internet of Things) and Big Data. But actually, utilities already have a flow, temperature and, in some cases, a pressure sensor in each building connected to the district heating network: smart heat meters transmitting data on an hourly basis 365 days a year. However, data alone – albeit accurate and frequent – is not enough either, because data only becomes really valuable when you use it properly. That means moving from data visualisation – i.e. observing data as it is, which is nothing new – to refining and analysing data in order to uncover what lies behind them. It also means switching from focusing mainly on what takes place on top of the distribution network to diving into what is happening inside the pipes underground.
Hidden deep underground, a utility’s distribution network has so far been considered somewhat of a black box. Meter data from each connected building shows the status of that particular building but says nothing about the cause behind it. Similarly, inside the facilities of the utility, data on a number of parameters is available but provides no overview of the actual state of the distribution network. Now that is all about to change, as utilities can instead rely on data from their smart heat meters to reveal what goes on in the pipes that make up the network. Utilities have previously focused on using meter data to improve the energy performance of individual buildings. However, as district heating becomes more complex, integrating many different heat sources, it is increasingly important for utilities to have an optimised infrastructure for transporting renewable and surplus energy to where it is needed instead of primarily generating heat by burning fossil fuel. An optimised distribution network presents opportunities for significant cost savings for district heating utilities in particularly two areas: reducing heat loss and improving asset management. However, both of them call for more than general calculations based on theory, assumptions or gut feelings. PARADIGM SHIFT UNDERWAY Today, most utilities select specific locations in the network, e.g. wells, where they measure flow, temperature and perhaps pressure, using either movable or static – and more expensive
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